Warning: Spoilers ahead for Episode 1 of House of the Dragon.
The series premiere of House of the Dragon included some shocking moments—none more so than the horrific Cesarean section performed on Aemma Arryn (Sian Brooke), which was done without the pregnant queen’s consent in order to remove her breeched baby from her womb. Game of Thrones was known for hitting viewers with gory twists, but even compared to most of the things shown on the original series, what happened to Aemma was hard to watch.
While showrunners Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal have insisted that the scene was done with the utmost care and that it was shown to “as many women as possible” to gauge their reactions, it has understandably sparked a lot of debate online. On the one hand, Game of Thrones has often tried to realistically depict some of the more violent aspects of the Middle Ages from which A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin drew inspiration, and childbirth during that time was extremely dangerous. That said, childbirth today is still pretty dangerous, even if modern medical advancements do make things like C-sections much safer, and many people have traumas related to difficult births. Those viewers might not want to see something so triggering dramatized like this or, at the very least, they might want to know about it in advance.
This has brought about the question: Should House of the Dragon have included a trigger warning to let viewers know the series premiere would include a traumatic birth scene?
“I think it’s fairly traumatic for anybody actually. With 13 babies dying every day in the UK, the situation impacts an enormous community of people directly, too,” Jen Coates told Radio 1 Newsbeat, per the BBC. Coates is the director of the UK-based bereavement support charity Sands, and is of the opinion that it is “really important” that shows like House of the Dragon give viewers notice before depicting something with so much real-world trauma associated with it. “That way, people can be better equipped with the knowledge and make an informed decision to watch or skip particular scenes or episodes.”
Writer Laura Birek examined whether House of the Dragon should have included a trigger warning at Shondaland, where she noted how the traumas associated with her own labor caused her and her husband to swiftly turn off the series premiere. Birek herself had a C-section birth, and co-hosts a pregnancy podcast where she was able to give some viewers a warning about the scene.
“I genuinely wish I had this warning before watching it, as I’m scheduled for a C-section in 32 days,” replied one listener, while others thanked her for helping them make a more informed decision about whether watching would be too traumatic given their own experiences.
“What Condal and Sapochnik fail to recognize is that childbirth is still an incredibly dangerous situation,” Birek wrote. “To claim that modern medicine has fixed ‘all of the complications’ demonstrates a breathtaking ignorance about pregnancy and childbirth. To think that the violence of birth disappeared with jousting tournaments and the feudal system shows that they’ve never had to contemplate how to extract an 8-pound baby from their midsection.”
Birek puts forth that she’s “not saying the episode should be taken down or even revised,” only that “some of us are exhausted parents trying to survive and heal our own trauma. Give us a little heads-up, and let us decide whether this is something we can handle.”
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